There are nine million bicycles in Beijing. At least, that is what long-forgotten British singer-songwriter Katie Melua brazenly told us was both ‘a fact’ and ‘a thing we can’t deny’ back in 2005. Of course, Melua’s figures are now 12 years out of date and, even at the time, she refused to disclose the research methods of her census, or support her claims with any credible evidence. But yes, lots of bikes here, Katie, we'll give you that.
Things have changed in 2017 though, and there are now nine million bicycles – shared bicycles – on every street corner in Beijing, as well as bonafide ways of collecting sweet, succulent data on their usage, thanks to your friend the smartphone.
With around 20 million rides a day in over 50 Chinese cities, Mobike
are the pace setters in the country's recent shared bike boom, and using their vast bank of travel data of aforementioned succulence, they've teamed up with the China New Urbanization Research Institute to analyse just how their two-wheelers are changing commuter behaviour, our lifestyles and the cities we live in.
They released a paper
back in April revealing their findings, and there's some pretty interesting facts and figures to come out of it, starting with the big one.
Mobike users have travelled a total of 2.5 billion kilometres
That's the equivalent of going to the moon and back 3,300 times. Or, if you like to keep things more earthly, 1.9 million trips between Beijing and Shanghai. If you like it even closer to home, try riding from Gulou
five hundred million times.
Bikesharing has doubled the use of bicycles
As part of the research, the team also surveyed 100,000 users to dig a little deeper, and found that 11.6 percent of them took two wheels as their main mode of transportation, of which 6.8 percent rode a Mobike, with just 4.8 percent using their own ride – down from 5.5 percent pre-bikesharing. Still, positive news for cycling.
Men take more rides than women
Perhaps unsurprising this one, given the guys' significant headstart, with an estimated 33 million more men
in China than women. It also so happens that Mobike's largest user demographic is males under the age of 32.
Male retirees ride the furthest and the fastest
Go grandpa! It seems the bikesharing revolution has given the seniors a new lease of life, and while the under-32s may be more numerous than their greying counterparts, it is the retirees who are speeding away from the peloton, leaving every other demographic in their dust and claiming the title of kings of endurance. A few questions unanswered though: where are they going? And what are they running from?
'Female college students' are reportedly the slowest riders, while vaguely described 'Young working ladies' travel the shortest distances.
Illegal rickshaw rides are down 53 percent
Three-wheelers seem to be the biggest victim of the two-wheeled explosion, and surveyed Mobike users reported taking half the trips they used to in the days of yore. A study the team conducted at one Beijing subway station revealed that 70 percent of the unlicensed drivers who used to gather there had already moved on to other jobs.
92.9 percent of Beijing trips shorter than 5km are quicker by shared bike
Well, a combination of shared bike and public transport at peak traffic, that is. The whole aim of the paper seems to be to tell us that cars suck, that we should hate them and never use them ever again. Which is probably true.
So it's official, take the bus or subway, take a bike and weave through the traffic, and you'll probably get from A to B quicker. For trips over 5km, 23.7 percent of journeys are quicker, which, all things considered, is still pretty significant.
Users reported a 55 percent decrease in car trips
Surveyed users said that, since the dawn of smart shared bikes, they had taken less than half the trips they had previously in their own car, by Didi, taxi or private chauffeur. We must say that, looking around Beijing, it doesn't look like much has changed, but an encouraging statistic, nonetheless.
Heavy pollution does not impact people's bikesharing behaviour
Come rain, come shine, come deathly smog cloud, riders are ridin' on, or at least that's what the table above seems to be showing. It must be said that the data presented was only collected over five days in balmy September, but it's probably correct, given hardy Beijingers' refusal to accept defeat against the pollution. The show must go on.
'Bikesharing saves urban spaces'
Urban space salvation in action.
We have slight reservations about this one – many urban spaces have descended into complete and utter, untold chaos as Mobike and Ofo – as well as whichever new challenger of the week has popped up – compete for blanket coverage of street corners.
But there is rational truth to what they're suggesting – the space needed to park a bike is, obviously, significantly smaller than that of a car, so if we could all just get rid of our motors, we would, obviously, free up lots of nice space to do nice things like build nice homes and parks.
'By reducing the amount of space needed for cars and other vehicles, bikesharing frees up enough urban space to build 600,000 homes [across the country],' the report claims. 'In Beijing, bikesharing frees up space that is five times the size of the Bird's Nest Stadium'.